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Hat-trick in a Cork final, downing All-Ireland club champions and dual code county titles for a teen star

19-year-old Fiona Keating has had a hectic few weeks with West Cork Ladies and Courcey Rovers.

RISING CORK STAR Fiona Keating is experiencing her first week as a college student through the prism of Zoom.

fiona-keating Fiona Keating [file photo]. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

There’s no freshers week nights out, no stepping into lecture halls for the first time, or settling into student accommodation. What should be a rite of passage has been distilled down to online classes, which she is attending from her home in Ballinspittle.

She was able to visit Mary Immaculate College last week for orientation, but that’s as much as she got to see of the facility in Tipperary due to the ongoing pandemic.

It’s unfortunate for her to be missing out on the early days of student life, but given her hectic sporting schedule of late, it’s working out as a blessing for her too.

“I’ve barely had a minute to sit down and think about it all,” says the Maths and Business teaching student, who has recently won senior county titles in both ladies football and camogie.

“I’ve been so busy the past few weeks with West Cork and Courcey’s, and then getting ready for college and work. So it was only really today I was thinking about it.”

The first of Keating’s medals was achieved with the West Cork ladies, who stunned the reigning All-Ireland club champions Mournabbey on the way to becoming the new queens of the county.

Mourneabbey were chasing a Cork seven-in-a-row this year, but after suffering defeat in the last two deciders, West Cork outmatched them this time around.

2020 has become the year of the club game, as Covid-19 forced the GAA, LGFA and Camogie Association to reformat the seasons. The West Cork ladies certainly benefitted from that move.

“We always knew coming up against the likes of Mourneabbey would be a huge battle. But we’ve been going good this year and we got a chance to train more this year than any other year because we had a good few involved with inter-county.

So they didn’t make as many trainings last year. Whereas this year, we always had good numbers at training.

“Mourneabbey are a great side, they’re very physical and they’ve great skill with the likes of the O’Sullivans. But we just had that extra bit of bite this year after losing to them the previous two years.

“We know what it’s like to lose and we just didn’t want to be back there again.”

Last weekend, Keating doubled her medal tally by helping the Courcey Rovers to secure their first senior camogie crown with a player of the match display in the final.

West Cork’s journey can go no further as they are a divisional outfit, meaning Mourneabbey will go on to represent Cork in Munster. However, Courcey Rovers will begin provincial campaign this weekend, taking on Clare champions Inagh Kilnamona on Sunday afternoon.

Their county final against Inniscarra was a repeat of the 2018 decider where the latter team came out on top. Courcey Rovers avenged for that defeat following a powerful 5-12 to 1-12 performance last weekend, with Keating contributing 3-2 to that final tally.

“We’ve been up senior for the past 21 years and we’ve been there or thereabouts for the past two or three years,” says Keating, remarking on the long wait they have had to endure to become senior county champions at last.

“We lost out to Inniscarra two years ago and things didn’t really go our way last year. But when the final whistle blew on Sunday, the atmosphere was unbelievable and it was so rewarding after the past few weeks and months, considering Covid-19 and stuff.

We thought we were lucky to be back even training, not to mind going on and winning a final. It was just an unbelievable feeling to win a senior county final with the girls you grew up with, and went to school with and played with since you were six years old. It just makes it that bit special.

“We won a league going back a few years ago but I think I was U14 or U16. Besides that, we haven’t won any silverware. I haven’t won any trophies or medals with my club until this year.”

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Keating turned 19 this year, and has been representing Cork camogie and football teams throughout her days in the underage ranks.

She intends to continue playing both codes at senior level, although she decided to hold off on turning out for either team this year, as she was busy with sports commitments at school.

Playing for Kinsale Community School, Keating won a Munster football final and an All-Ireland basketball title in her Leaving Cert year.

With her welfare in mind, Cork football boss Ephie Fitzgerald and camogie manager Pauide Murray both agreed that she had plenty on her plate, and told her to join the respective squads after her exams.

Fixture clashes are a persistent problem for dual players at inter-county level and there have been some high-profile cases in recent years.

Even the club grade has been affected by this issue. Last month, Tipperary dual club Cahir withdrew from their county junior A camogie championship final over player welfare issues stemming from a fixture clash with the senior A football final. The two deciders were 26 hours apart.

Keating has experienced similar problems and was even forced to leave the West Cork Ladies’ celebrations early after their football triumph.

She wanted to go home and rest up for Courcey Rovers’ camogie semi-final the next day.

“We had the football on the Saturday evening so we celebrated in style,” Keating explains.

“The Courcey girls were even asking if I really went home at half 10, and I honestly did. I wouldn’t jeopardise that, it meant just as much to me.

“Out of respect to all the girls and stuff, I wouldn’t be going out the night before a county semi-final. A chance to play in those big matches don’t come around too often so you have to grab them with two hands when they do.

She also drove that night to ensure that she didn’t get tempted by the jubilant scenes.

That was my bit of proof to people as well, that I wasn’t drinking,” she laughs.

“I only passed my driving test about a month ago. My parents were my taxi until then. But that was my bit of proof that I was staying on the dry, and I wouldn’t do that to my club-mates.”

The busy times continue for Keating as Courcey Rovers return to the pitch this weekend, while the start of Cork’s football and camogie campaigns follow later this month.

“We’re going back to Cork camogie training tonight so we’ll be back club training Saturday morning before the match Sunday.

“I suppose it keeps me busy. I’d hate to be sitting around twiddling my thumbs.”

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